There are so many defining moments in my life but nothing, nothing, nothing could ever prepare me for the shock of finding out I had breast cancer. I was 38. My kids were tiny (4 and 2). I was nursing my mum through terminal and aggressive lymphoma. I was running a creative business, a content agency that employed seven women who all relied on me to be able to pay their bills.
October 2014. It was my husbands birthday. Rather than celebrating down the pub we were in the strip lit cancer centre.
“I’m sorry but you have aggressive breast cancer.”
In that split second life took an unchartered trajectory and changed forever. All I could think was a) how would I cope with everything I was juggling and b) how my kids might grow up without me.
But I learned how resilient I really was. I had to go through a mastectomy, radiotherapy and 18 rounds of chemotherapy. God, I hated sitting in that room, being pumped full of drugs - some days I had treatment on the same day as my mum, some days randomly sitting next to the butchers wife - as you do - making small talk like “how you doing today?” It was so weird.
My dad had already died, and watching my mum become more and more poorly and in the worst pain was literally one of the most heart-breaking times of my life. It was so unfair. Watching her die was the strangest and hardest thing ever but also a privilege. I literally had to go straight from the hospice the day she’d passed away to have my own chemotherapy appointment. It was all so surreal.
I was literally in danger of losing my sh*t.
Lucky for me I’ve never been conventional so when my husband suggested moving abroad to get away from it all for a bit, to heal and do something different, to live by the sea and learn a new language I took all of a nano second to say yes. The day after my last chemotherapy session we moved to Barcelona, bought a camper van (and named her Annie after my mum @anniethevan on Insta) and spent two and a half years travelling.
And all that sunshine, learning a new language and yoga on the beach opened up my closed and bedraggled heart. So I wanted to share the lessons I learned because what I know is that grief is really all about love. And I don’t hate cancer, in fact I have learned to be grateful for all these things it taught me.
1. When you’re faced with sh*t, your inner goddess makes an entrance.
Because we are all waaaayyy more badass than we think, it’s inside us all already. You, me, everyone. So, quite literally, grief and cancer have gifted me with the meeting of my inner self, and now I know she’s there, I know she’ll always have my back!
2. It’s not the time we’ve got, it’s the memories we make.
Sharing a small van with kids might not be for everyone, but for us it works. We lived in 10square metres together for 6 months and covered 17 countries. Nothing beats the thrill of parking up by deserted beaches and cooking our dinner watching the surfers, or of road tripping around the Croatian countryside singing our hearts out with literally NO plan about where we are going to go next.
3. You’ve got to do what makes you happy. Not just on the surface but deep inside.
It was only after making a massive lifestyle change I realised working with major brands didn’t make me happy. My clients were the likes of Unilever, Jumeirah and Wedgwood. Little old me, a new mum who grew a business to multiple six figures. Success, right? But what I really craved was a deeper connection and I realised I could use all my experience to help other women, so I started my new business from a point of love.
4. There is NO love like mother’s love, whether they are here or not.
Losing my own mum as I was worrying about my own mortality was traumatic. But all this only made my love stronger. An elderly neighbour told me once that relationships still evolve after someone has passed away and it’s so true. I am grateful to have amazing people in my life but nobody will ever be able to look deep into my soul like my mum and my daughters can. That her love would flow down so freely through me into them. And even though she's not here, she still guides me unconditionally through life.
5. Grief is a powerful part of love.
It helps me see what is truly important. It shows me not to sweat the small stuff, but to crouch down tenderly and savour the simple moments. The kids crawling into bed with us in the morning, washing up in the sun by the campervan, waking up on a deserted beach, snogging my husband.
So when I'm knackered after being up with sick kids, or like now, going through a load of tests to check whether the cancer has come back, I hold onto these lessons tight because they have made me evolve and grow into the woman and mum I think I was always meant to be.
Ruth Hoskins (@ruthie_hoskins on Insta) - I'm a writer, podcaster and mentor to creatives as well as a mum of two girls and step mum to one (big) boy. I've just moved back to the UK after years of travelling and living in Barcelona. I'm about to launch an online course for creatives to find chemistry within their business. I'm obsessed with the 80s and dim sum.
The Mother of all Meltdowns – ADHD from a Parent’s Perspective by Claire Quigley Ward
Happy Mother’s Day to me. Or maybe not. It’s 6:01am, I’m awake, my son is having the mother of all meltdowns. He’s crying and I’m crying. This is why I hate Mother’s Day, there’s too much expectation. But I’m sleep-deprived and would desperately have liked a lie-in. That is all.
My bet would be that you’re reading this and assuming my son is a toddler - he’s not. He’s 7 and has ADHD. When you think about ADHD no doubt the obvious behaviours spring to mind such as hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Forget the misconceptions about bad parenting or naughty boys. ADHD is real. ADHD is a complex neurological disorder. It’s a hidden disability. It’s exhausting.
His insatiable energy knows know limits. He is like a Duracell Bunny, he literally never stops and has volume levels that are not for the faint-hearted. But that’s the easy part. The bit that most people have no idea about is the intense and volatile emotions that explode frequently without warning.
It’s like there is a mini caveman inside his brain, so when he feels any kind of emotional stress his parasympathetic nervous system kicks in, flooding him with adrenalin and causing him to get locked in Fight mode. Often, it’s hard for him to distinguish between feelings of anxiety and excitement so his angry outbursts can be triggered by positive experiences or events, as well as negative ones. Punishment is not effective for children with ADHD, so when he is in Fight mode, all I can do is calm and comfort him. These behaviours are impulsive. They are not deliberate. He’s not giving me a hard time, he’s having a hard time. But it is draining, soul destroying and utterly heart-breaking.
Sometimes it starts before I’ve even got out of bed in the morning. Then come nighttime, his anxieties are in full flow which often means sitting outside of his bedroom door until he falls asleep. By which point I’m drained and have no real break before it starts all over again. It’s 24/7.
It seems to take more and more from me each day. I’m struggling. But it’s my responsibility to help and protect him. Help he so desperately wants. I’m doing everything I can, but it is a slow process with no short-term fix and no end in sight. There’s no immediate solution. No magic wand. And I feel unbelievable gut-wrenching guilt for even saying this stuff out loud. The worst thing is the feeling that I’m doing him a huge disservice by sharing this.
I’m probably painting a really bad image of my son, because the reality is that he is absolutely not a naughty boy. He’s challenging. Oh my god he’s challenging. But he is not a naughty boy. He’s an incredibly sensitive, kind and caring little boy. A really sociable kid. ADHD is also his super power. He is bright, has an absolute lust for life and boundless energy which he channels into lots of sports to great achievement. He’s only 7 and was just awarded his 600m swimming badge. Then there’s his creativity. His imagination knows no limits. And when he draws, he has the ability to hyper focus, getting lost in his illustrations.
ADHD was diagnosed almost 18 months ago. The diagnosis itself was a shock as until then I thought I was just a rubbish Mum. For a brief window the symptoms provided explanation and temporary relief. But things seem to be getting worse. I haven’t spoken about it publicly until now as I’ve been so frightened that sharing this label with the world would make things worse for him. It’s only become aware to me recently how much of a hidden disability it is. He is not a neurotypical child, something I’m learning to recognise. So, I’ve been summoning the courage and confidence to write this. Because ADHD is real. It’s not an excuse. It’s not his fault. It’s a description of his brain. It’s unhelpful and unhealthy to expect certain things of him. So please don’t judge him, because he’s the boy I love most in this world. I just have to dig a little deeper.
Mother’s Day wasn’t a complete write off, I got to eat pizza and drink wine at tea time. But I’ve decided from now on it’s best not to distinguish it too much from any other Sunday. That way it removes the anxiety-inducing expectation for him, and the disappointment from me. But I’d still really like some sleep!
Claire Quigley Ward MBA
Co-founder & Managing Director
In spite of running my business for the last 10 years it is the last 3-4 years I have focussed on Instagram. I have grown my Mama Designs Instagram from less than 400 to over 51,000 followers in this time. I have done this organically and have found that it has made a huge difference to my business. I have found new retailers, collaborated with influencers and celebrities (who have discovered us on Instagram) , collaborated with other small brands and even done some influencer marketing myself.
Here are my top 5 tips for brands on Instagram. Firstly I should say that I love Instagram and I do spend quite a bit of time on there but I totally think that it is worth it and it has paid off for me (in the form of followers and also sales).
1. Collaborate!! This has been the biggest way I have achieved Instagram growth. This can be with other brands, similar target audience, so for me brands selling to parents (product or services). Collaboration can be in the form of creating images (product swaps), shout outs or even sharing discount codes. I recently did this with the Positive Birth Company, we have a similar target audience. I am pregnant and have been using their digital pack, which I think is amazing, so I have shared about this a few times and she has shared a discount code for Mama Designs. A simple and effective collaboration!
Giveaways are another great way of collaborating. Although the algorithm seems to be picking up on wording in the copy and showing to less people as a result so lately I have noticed that giveaways are less successful than previously. Still a good way to be discovered and followed by more brands.
Influencer gifting can be a great way for gaining exposure. Bigger is not always better! Research the influencer as some will certainly be more giving than others and you might get more from a smaller "micro" influencer. I would avoid paying for influencer marketing.
2. Be fussy with what you post! Could your picture go in a magazine? Is it good enough? This is you curating your own mini magazine advertising your products! I don't post pics if they are fuzzy, off brand or have mess in the background, or even if the colours don't work with my feed. If you want a curated feed that works together you do need to think about the overall look and feel of your feed.
3. Plan ahead! When I don't do this I always regret it. Having a week ahead planned is always a good idea and means you can take time to put together posts and copy (you can always add to the copy when you post). It means you can think about your hashtags etc. I have used Planoly in the past for working out what works next to each other. There is a downloadable Instagram planner in my online course which is really useful for this.
4. Create your own great content. Although you can share pictures from other people and other brands featuring your products, having brand new content is always good. You can easily create content in so many ways. Flatlays (whether you sell a product or not, just even items in your colours), shelfies, selfies or set up a scene / shoot at home or at a friend's house. Use friends for your pics, their homes, their children. I have been creating nursery scenes at home for years in spite of not having a nursery. You will be surprised by how many items you already have at home that you could create great posts from.
5. Be sociable!! It is called social media after all. This means replying to every comment you receive (and not simply liking). It means liking and commenting on other peoples content too. Not only does this connect you with that person (to a degree) but it also means more people are likely to see your name and discover you as a result. You want to be commenting on other peoples pics, who have a similar target audience. Also going to events (Mothers Meetings for example!) is a great way to network and be sociable in real life with the people you meet in these little squares. Don;t be shy it definitely pays to be sociable!
My online business course Grow Your Business On a Budget is a self taught course, packed with easily actionable tips and advice (including an Instagram section) You can find out more here... https://www.mamadesigns.co.uk/mama-designs-business-club/
You’ve probably heard it before... When it comes to getting your business or social platform off the ground, it’s really not all about the numbers. Nope. A huge follower count doesn’t guarantee success! The trouble is: we all love recognition. Let’s face it, online, the more followers and customers who ‘get us’ and love what we do, the better - right? As a copywriter and brand strategist for kids and family focused brands, I keep my eye out for online marketing doing well among the mum crowd. What’s connecting, what’s converting, what’s attracting fellow busy parents and diverting attention from a sea of competitors... Whether you’re a blogger, an Insta influencer or you run a kids/family focused business, here’s what to do to attract other parents to your online presence and how to make them fall in love with you:
Be a mind reader
Relatability is the easiest way to make connection online. Feeling heard and understood is LIFE GIVING, especially for the parent who’s spent the day only having conversations with little people! We all want to connect with others who ‘get it’. Get our lives. Get our struggles. Get our dreams. An understanding of who you’re creating content for will help you come up with relevant topics and ideas and help guide on when and where to post - boosting the chances of engagement from those who your content will resonate with.
You’ll know you’re on the right track when you’re getting comments like: “It’s like you read my mind!”, “I really needed this today” and “I was talking about this yesterday!”.
We all know those social media squares aren't truly a reflection of life. They're highlight reels. Glimpses of how we wish we’d see our life all the time, shared as a reminder of good times amongst life's true ups and down. But even though we all know this at the back of our minds, it's so easy to get sucked into comparisonsitis and find ourselves longing for unattainable and unrealistic lives.
Finding snippets of REALITY online is always a huge relief as a social media using parent. To see or read of other's imperfections and struggles is not only liberating, it's key to staying sane while digitally connected.
Next time you're not sure if you should reveal truths, share those opinions or tell that story because it reveals that actually life isn't always glossy, think about the followers who might need to know they're not alone and DO IT! Vulnerability is powerful. It lets others closer and helps empower those who also want to speak openly about their lives without the fear of judgement.
Be an encourager
Speaking of empowering others, if you want to attract more followers and have a more positive experience online - be someone who empowers and encourages with your words. Be someone who shows others what's possible. Who approaches things with positivity, kindness and hope! There's so much negativity in this world as it is, online and off. Stand out as the creator of a space people want to be part of and focus on uplifting others with everything from your content to your comments. A sense of enthusiasm and love is irresistible.
Remember though, this doesn't mean you need to write everything with rose tinted glasses. Be honest, with a focus on overcoming or asking for help when you face your struggles. Who wouldn’t want to see more of this in their lives?!
Dance parties. Singalongs. Instagram filters. Behind the scenes playfulness... Whatever fits with your brand or life, do more of the stuff that makes you feel great. Us parents have enough responsibility going on, it's always refreshing to have a laugh as we scroll! And you know how it works, when we see something funny online it's natural to want to share it on.
Be of service
It doesn’t matter if you're ‘in business’ or ‘in the business of growing a social media following’, being a helper is a great way to build a reputation. Think about what your parent followers need and make their life easier with what you do. Plan content that helps solve their problems or be of service through the advice and encouragement you give in comments; if you put being of service as a focus, recognition will follow.
Be an inviter
Business owners, this one’s for you. The biggest obstacle I hear when it comes to business growth is the fear of... wait for it - making sales! Online success relies on strategically prompting and directing your parent browsers and presenting invitations to actually BUY. I get it. I’ve never been a fan of directly asking for money (shudder) and yes, I’ve felt the fear of coming across as spammy, salesy, money-grabbing. But ladies, we’ve got to remember the reason we’re doing this in the first place. For our children, for our families, for our own personal sense of achievement - making more sales is a must if you want to keep your business alive, and hoping people are going to find their way to the checkout doesn’t cut it if you want your business to fulfil its maximum potential.
The most helpful ‘reframer’ for me was to think of sales as invitations. There’s no forcing, no persuading... Just confident invitations to enjoy some of what you’ve got. Be that baby sleep coaching services or smart design kids swimwear, don't forget to invite your followers to take a closer look. They could just be desperate to hear more!
Saskia Crawley is a copywriter and brand strategist for kids/family focused brands, a mum of 2 young boys, and the creator of The Parent-Magnet Process. Get ready to see more parents fall in love with your business with her free 20-minute masterclass ‘6 Parent-Attracting Steps to Take Before You Launch Your Kids/Family Focused Business’.
Looking for a stylish, cultural spot to take the kids!! Look no further....
LOCATED IN THE MAGNIFICENT NATIONAL GALLERY, THE NATIONAL CAFÉ IS ONE OF THE MOST CHARMING & ELEGANT RESTAURANTS IN LONDON, OFFERING ALL DAY DINING FROM HEALTHY BRUNCHES TO OPULENT EVENING MEALS.
Have a sneak on their insta here
We were kindly invited to try the new menu at the National Gallery but rather than one of the ladies at our HQ take up the offer we thought we would gift it to one of our fab mothers!! We could not think of anyone better to gift this great brunch to than Emily and James who has been going through an emotional roller coaster over the past 12 months, since their baby girl Willow aka Willow the WARRIOR was diagnosed with Chronic Kidney Disease - Willow is about to approach her 1st birthday and they are overwhelmed that she has come along this far - she really is a blessing!! And the strongest lil lady in the world. So amongst the chaos of hospital appointments and health visitors, they got their glad rags on headed out to London's West End for a lovely brunch - both Emily and James are very creative (James designs restaurants for a living, so his review was going to be very critical - thankfully he loved every bit of the new menu and Cafe). Considering the location of the restaurant is within the heart of the city, the atmosphere was very chilled and super relaxing at the same time as stylish and very special. Their first born 5 year old Nancy Rose loved every minute too! With sooo many choices on the menu for the lil ones, there were thankfully no meltdowns!! So all around a lovely day out to a family that massively appreciated and needed it!!!
Designed by restaurateur Oliver Peyton, offers a modern, healthy take on all the brunch classics including shakshouka – baked eggs in tomato sauce with chorizo; duck hash with Clarence Court duck eggs, and chilli and acai bowl with bananas, peanut butter, homemade granola and fresh fruit. Fitting for spring, vibrant and light dishes include a miso salmon poke bowl with brown rice, pickled carrot, kimchi and seaweed; and the veggie-friendly spiced beetroot hummus served with labneh and seasonal vegetable crudités.
A dedicated kids’ menu is also available, including an array of breakfast dishes from pancakes to porridge through to toasted tea cakes and scrambled eggs.
With a brand new brunch offering and access to The National Gallery, The National Café is perfect for a full day out with friends and family.